Unitarian Universalist Congregation
of Northern Chautauqua

companionship on life's sacred journey

Economy of Encouragement

June 2018

From the Heart

In some traditional Christian congregations, wise leaders there speak of the “Economy of Salvation.” By this they mean that congregants make a bargain – they commit to their faith and their congregation, and in return they are assured they will go to heaven and be saved after they die.

For us, with the Universalist part of our heritage, we are much less likely to be worried about this kind of salvation after death. However, we Unitarian Universalists do have our own equivalent trade-off.

Let’s call it our “Economy of Encouragement.” We come to our congregations seeking encouragement, and we are asked to encourage others around us. If we in fact do find encouragement, and find satisfaction in encouraging others, then I submit we are much more likely to become and remain committed to our chosen congregation.

And this encouragement can take the form of warm and understanding hearts when a congregant is grieving. This is a kind of encouragement as well – being willing to be present without judgment as a friend encounters their loss, listening when needed and encouraging them to take the time they need.

And once in a long while we experience a deep transforming moment, a transformation of the heart. And our congregations can provide a supportive place to understand these deep transformations.

So that’s it – our Unitarian Universalist economy of encouragement.

May it be so.
Rev. George Buchanan

© 2018 Reverend George Buchanan

Seeking a Return to the Path

May 2018

From the Heart

Recently I’ve been gone through a time of low spirits – somewhat depressed and anxious. I’ve had a few personal and professional difficulties piling up, paid less attention to self-care – you know how it goes.

For me it feels somewhat like being lost in the woods. I thought I was on the right path, and suddenly the markers are gone, and I am worried and feeling somewhat lost.

The solutions do NOT include standing around telling myself how stupid I am for getting lost. I can skip this step. I CAN do the things I’ve learned to deal with such situations in the woods – marking the trail, guiding from the sun, walking downhill, etc.

I know the work of getting “found” again – will not always produce immediate results. Sometimes I have to apply multiple techniques over several hours to find my way again.

And it is very much like this when we find ourselves feeling spiritually lost. Putting ourselves down does not help. The way back to our chosen path will call on multiple techniques to get us there – reflection, meditation, prayer, conversation, shared work. It will take time and attention.

And we are not seeking a forever solution and a place to stop permanently. We are seeking a return to the path we have chosen. Rather than a stopping place, we seek the good and proper path for each of us. Our paths will change over time, and tomorrow’s choice may be different than today’s.

May we each find a good path for today, with love and joy on the journey.
Rev. George Buchanan

© 2018 Reverend George Buchanan

Global Climate Change

April 2018

From the Heart

Will Rogers famously said that only two things are certain – death and taxes. In 2018, we know we need to add a third item to this list. This is the onrushing wave of global climate change, forced by human actions.

It has been clear for years that the die is cast and massive global climate change is inevitable. We as humans can do some things to slightly alter the course of this change over the next century, but we cannot avoid or reverse the basic change.

This makes global climate change into what is called a “predicament,” as opposed to a problem. Death is a predicament; each of us must face it in our own lives and in the lives of those we love. Part of our spiritual and religious work is reconciliation to this inevitability. And part of the practical work of contemporary society is to find solutions to problems such as diseases and social conditions.

And now we need spiritual and religious resources to help us encounter and live with global climate change, as well as practical solutions to the problems of living with this new predicament.

My Unitarian Universalist minister colleague Rev. Naomi King believes we can build “cities of refuge, houses of hope and gardens of peace” even in the face of this new predicament.

I agree with her. May we find creative and fulfilling ways to do this work.
Rev. George Buchanan

© 2018 Reverend George Buchanan

Thirty-five Years Strong!

March 2018

From the Heart

Thirty-five years! Wow! Our congregation has been alive and working in Western New York for thirty-five years, offering a beacon of religious liberalism here. We plan to celebrate this anniversary during this month, at the Sunday service on March 25.

As your minister, I have been with you just a little more than two years. So there is so much of our congregation’s history I do not know, at least in the same way long time members do. There are good records of the basic history, the brief description of events. However, I only know a little about you all felt as we changed and grew.

So I am asking anyone who has a good memory from our congregational life to contact me, and I will include highlights of these memories in the March 25 service. We will celebrate these memories together and look forward to the future for our religious community.

In this as in so many other things, I look forward to learning more and growing in understanding with you all.

Blessed be.
Rev. George Buchanan

© 2018 Reverend George Buchanan

Five Smooth Stones

February 2018

From the Heart

The story of David and Goliath is well known. The stripling youth David defeating the giant Goliath; David uses just a sling and a well-aimed stone. We resonate with this story of youth and bravery facing overwhelming evil, and we hear it again and again in many different forms with different young heroes in our culture today; think of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games or Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, David selects five smooth stones from a riverbed for his weapons. In the middle of the twentieth century, Unitarian minister James Luther Adams drew on this story to propose “five smooth stones” for religious liberalism. These metaphorical stones are not physical weapons, but underlying beliefs we as Unitarian Universalists and religious liberals can bring to bear on our current day struggles.

Note that Adams’ five smooth stones predated our seven principles and six sources by several decades. Here are the five:

  1. Revelation is not sealed; rather it is continuous, both in our individual experience and in the ongoing process of science and reason in civilization.
  2. All relations between persons ought ideally to rest on mutual, free consent and not on coercion.
  3. Religious liberalism affirms the moral obligation to direct our effort toward the establishment of a just and loving community.
  4. Good things don’t just happen, people make them happen.
  5. Religious liberals hold that the resources – divine and human – available for the achievement of meaningful change justify an attitude of ultimate optimism.

In February I will be preaching about several of these five “smooth stones.” Let’s see what value these might have in our day and time.

In love,
Rev. George Buchanan

© 2018 Reverend George Buchanan

Healing and Resilience

January 2018

From the Heart

We are dealing with so much change in our lives these days, and many of these changes are disheartening. Sometimes it is a personal loss, sometimes a change in the broader political and cultural scene we find upsetting and perhaps heartbreaking.

In January I will be leading a workshop on Healing and Resilience to help us come to terms with these heartbreaking events. See the detailed description of this workshop on the News & Events tab or online calendar on this website.

The workshop process invites us to recognize the pain of our troubled world, whether personal or more broadly. We do this at the same time as we recognize the simple things in life we are profoundly grateful for. Out of this, we search together for how we might look at the world in a new way, and how we might act on our new vision.

We do not promise to solve all the problems, but rather to find a stronger stance from which we can look clearly at what we are called to do.

This workshop is open to all who are willing to make common purpose with us in seeking the Beloved Community Dr. King speaks of. Please join us.

May it be so.
Rev. George Buchanan

© 2018 Reverend George Buchanan

What Does It Mean To Pray?

December 2017

From the Heart

What does it mean to pray? Unitarian minister A. Powell Davies writes: “What is it to pray but to open our hearts?” And this is a good start to understanding prayer. Whatever else happens, in true prayer our hearts do open up to more of the truth and love possible for us.

When I am speaking publicly, I will sometimes say something like: “I hope and pray our congregation will continue to work towards a more racially just society.” This combination of hope and prayer is very important and potent for me. In this combination, the hope is not just a vague desire for racial justice, but rather a commitment to do what I can to this end. I am also promising to work to convince others, and to be open to all worthy possibilities, including changing myself and my habits.

So if you hear me make such a prayer, and then observe me acting in a way that contradicts the vision, you can rightly bring me up short and let me know your concern. And, having made such a prayer about our congregation, members and friends know I am promising to lift up the ideal of racial justice. And they know I will speak up when I sense we are acting in a contrary way.

So what are my prayers? Well, I do hope and pray for racial justice. More generally, I hope and pray our congregation will become more and more a loving, inclusive community where we live out our ideal of the “worth and dignity of every person,” as our First Principle says.

May it be so.
Rev. George Buchanan

© 2017 Reverend George Buchanan

Conscious Breathing

November 2017

From the Heart

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” – from Stepping into Freedom, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh urges us to anchor ourselves to our breathing, and conscious breathing in particular. During times we set aside for meditation, we are conscious of our breathing and the state of our bodies as we rest from other activities.

And of course we breathe at all other times as well. But, if you are like me, anxiety and pressure and worry can set in and trigger more shallow and more rapid breathing. I tell myself to “breathe,” knowing full well I am breathing all the time.

So telling myself to breathe is really reminding myself to breathe in the deeper, easier way we remember from our time doing meditation practice. Stand up for what is right, and breathe carefully and deeply as we do so. Do the routine work of our days, and pay attention and breathe deeply as we do so. Take time to relax and celebrate, time we richly deserve, and breathe easily and deeply as we do so.

Care for the children, and take time to breathe deeply while we care for the children. Maybe we can even teach them to breathe more easily.

Breathe deep, my friends.

May it ever be so.
Rev. George Buchanan

© 2017 Reverend George Buchanan

'What Love Looks Like in Public'

October 2017

From the Heart

Dr. Cornel West says: “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” In that one sentence, Dr. West frames the connection between the vision of care and compassion we espouse in our personal relationships, and the meaning of justice in larger communities, including nation states and all of humanity.

For racial justice, there is a stark contrast between two opposing viewpoints. In one view we as humans are divided by race, and are essentially engaged in a struggle for power among racial groups. The doctrine of “white supremacy” is one example of this view.

In the other view, the essential struggle is to construct a society where each person is treated justly and fairly. We work to clear away the legacies of cultural and institutional racism, and remove any other barriers based on race and ethnic origin.

I am a firm believer in the second approach, and I hope our Unitarian Universalist congregation will continue to be a place where we stand for this kind of racial justice.

For those of us who benefit from white privilege, a key part of the work is to better understand this privilege and the stance we want to take.

In October, I will be leading a book study group to help increase understanding of racial justice and the work we are called to do. The details of this are on the News & Events tab above and in the online calendar.

I hope and pray our congregation will continue to grow in our work to envision and build the Beloved Community.

May it be so.
Rev. George Buchanan

© 2017 Reverend George Buchanan

Working for Racial Justice

September 2017

From the Heart

The last few months, and the last few weeks, have brought us lots of news about racial justice in the United States. And our denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association, has been active in this field as well. Here are just some of the more important things our national denomination has been doing.

  • In October of 2016, the Board of Directors of our national association agreed to a five-year fund-raising plan for Black Lives of Unitarian Universalists.
  • Earlier this year, this same national Board established a Commission on Institutional Change to further examine the practices of the denomination and recommend ways to bring these practices more in line with our deep goals for racial justice. This commission is continuing the work started by the three interim co-Presidents of our denomination earlier this year.
  • Our newly elected President, Susan Frederick-Gray, has been publicly active in support of racial justice in Charlottesville and elsewhere.
  • A group associated with the Meadville/Lombard Theological school is developing a curriculum for engaging in healthy conversations about race and ethnicity – Beloved Conversations.

In this congregation, many of you continue to actively work to build racial justice in Western New York. In October, I will help lead a book study group on Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race. There will be more details on this over the coming weeks, and in next month’s newsletter.

I am looking forward to seeing you all in September!

In love,
Reverend George Buchanan

© 2017 Reverend George Buchanan



Minister Messages from 2016 - 2017